One of the creators of the Oxford Covid-19 vaccine, Prof Dame Sarah Gilbert, has warned that future pandemics could be even more lethal.
Prof Dame Gilbert, who was part of the team responsible for developing the Oxford- AstraZeneca vaccine, said that pandemics in the future could be more severe than Covid-19. Speaking at the 44th Richard Dimbleby Lecture, she also suggested that existing vaccines may not be as effective against the new Omicron variant.
Dame Sarah said that it is certain that viruses will threaten in the future and it is possible that the next pandemic could be worse. It could be “more lethal, more contagious, or both,” she explained. In light of this, she encouraged further investment in preparing for pandemics and warned against losing ground if there isn’t sufficient funding to fight against future threats. There is a danger of losing the advances made and the knowledge gained by finding that the world isn’t ready for the next challenge.
Talking about the Omicron variant, which was identified by scientists in South Africa, Dame Sarah said that the mutations on the spike protein could increase transmissibility and make vaccines less effective at reducing the risk of infection. At the moment, the impact of Omicron is unclear and scientists across the world are waiting for more data. Until we know more about the variant, we should remain cautious and try to take steps to lower infection risks, Professor Dame Gilbert added.
Although there are indications that the mutations could increase the risk of infection, it is not known whether the risk of severe symptoms will rise due to the presence of the new variant. It could be that cases are mild and vaccines play a key role in protecting against serious illness, as they have with other variants.
The emergence of the Omicron variant has prompted governments across the globe to take action, with many restricting travel from Southern Africa and introducing additional requirements for those who want or need to travel overseas. In England, travellers returning to the country will have to take a PCR or antigen test 48 hours before flying back, as well as a PCR test within 2 days of landing.
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